A basketball league founded by rapper Ice Cube has alleged that a US law firm acted as a “spy” for Qatari business interests as part of Doha’s wider public relations campaign in the country, according to a report by Bloomberg Law.
The Big3 Basketball league is suing US law firm Quinn Emanuel in a New York court. The league alleges that Quinn spied on it for Qatari interests while the firm was representing Big3 in a dispute with its ex-commissioner Roger Mason Jr., explained Bloomberg.
Quinn allegedly earns “tens of millions” of dollars a year from Qatar-based clients, according to the lawsuit. Big3 alleges that these interests influenced Quinn’s decision to represent the league in its dispute with its ex-chief as part of what Bloomberg described as a “political charm offensive aimed at influencing US policy toward Qatar.”
According to the lawsuit, Quinn refused to include the accusation that Mason was acting on behalf of Qatar’s interests in its case – eventually failing to stop Mason from selling his shares, despite running up $1.3 million worth of legal fees.
“Any rational person would question why a law firm would undertake the representation of a fledgling basketball league that might generate a few hundred thousand dollars in fees when the league was adverse to its existing Qatari clients who generate tens of millions of dollars in fees annually,” says the suit, as quoted in Bloomberg. “The only logical answer is that Qatar wanted Quinn to undertake the representation.”
“In effect, Quinn would become a spy for Qatar, a nation known for supporting terrorism and aligned with Iran,” the suit alleges.
But that's not the headline for BIG3's lawsuit v. Quinn Emanuel.— Darren Heitner (@DarrenHeitner) May 28, 2020
BIG3 is accusing the law firm of serving as a spy for Qatar. This is straight from the Complaint: "In effect, Quinn would become a spy for Qatar, a nation known for supporting terrorism and aligned with Iran."
Quinn denies the accusations. A spokesman for the firm said that suit was “fantasy-laden,” adding “Big3 was fully advised about the firm’s other various representations and is simply trying to avoid paying its bills.”
Qatar lobbying plot
The suit is the latest in an ongoing scandal involving alleged Qatari lobbying in Washington.
In 2018, Ice Cube – real name O’Shea Jackson – and business partner Jeff Kwatinetz filed an affidavit in Los Angeles. They alleged that Qatari investors has used them as pawns to gain sympathy with and access to senior political figures in Washington.
The main investor in question is Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a former Qatari diplomat who is currently the head of Qatar Investments, a $100 billion subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund.
The 2018 complaint also names the QIA CEO Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani and fellow Qataris Faisal al-Hamadi and Ayman Sabi, who are reportedly linked to the royal family.
The April 5, 2018 complaint alleges that the defendants presented themselves as “passive investors” with access to “vast resources and capital” due to their connections with Qatar’s royal family.
However, according to the complaint, al-Ruhmaihi and the other investors did not deliver the promised investment and instead sought to promote Qatar’s image after a series of damaging crises.
“As it turns out, Defendants were deeply concerned with the rapidly escalating political pressure and public relations crisis facing their country, including the military blockade against Qatar by its neighbors based on purportedly supporting extremism,” alleged the complaint.
“There was also more focus on controversy and accusations of bribes surrounding the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the firing of a head of the Qatar owned BeIN Sports, and controversy related to its purchase and operation of French soccer club PSG and the huge payment it made to sign star Neymar,” it added.
The suit alleges that the investors instead tried to leverage their positions and Kwatinetz’ supposed connections with figures in the Trump administration to try and counter this negative perception.
Access to Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn
Al-Ruhaihi is accused of trying to gain access to members of President Donald Trump's inner circle, including then White House adviser and Breitbart Editor Steve Bannon and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
According to Kwatinetz, who was reportedly good friends with Bannon, al-Rumaihi tried to get Kwatinetz to set up meetings between Bannon and the Qatari government.
“Mr. Al-Ruhaimi requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government, and Steven Bannon, and to tell Steven Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support,” said Kwatinetz in the sworn affidavit.
When Kwatinetz refused, al-Ruhaimi reportedly laughed and said he “shouldn’t be so naïve,” alleged Kwatinetz.
“Do you think [Michael] Flynn has turned down our money?” al-Ruhaimi is alleged to have said.
Flynn was National Security Adviser from January 22 to February 13, 2017.
The allegations received attention after images surfaced showing al-Ruhaimi meeting with Flynn in December 2016.
Why was Ahmed Al-Rumaihi meeting with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn in December 2016 and why did Mr. Al-Rumaihi later brag about bribing administration officials according to a sworn declaration filed in court?— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) May 13, 2018
The defendants called the bribery allegations “pure Hollywood fiction” in a statement to British newspaper the Daily Mail at the time of the complaint in May, 2018.
Qatar has been accused of carrying out a broader public relations campaign in Washington, including through carrying political ads in the journal POLITICO.